Friday, 13 December 2019

Hamradun - Hetjuslóð (2019)



Country: Faroe Islands
Style: Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 30 Nov 2019
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If your tastes run even a little towards world music, this is going to be an easy album to like. Even though vocalist Pól Arni Holm started out with Týr (that's him on their debut, How Far to Asgard), this isn't really folk metal at all. It's folk music, pure and simple, merely folk music that's played on rock instruments at points. How often, I'm not sure. There are a lot of folk instrument sounds, but they may or may not be the product of keyboards.

How far Hamradun go in either direction, towards pure folk or towards metal, can be easily seen in the first two songs.

Kirsten Piils kilde is a dark ballad. It's driven by a voice, which is clean and traditional and is clearly telling a story. I have no idea what that is, because tradition here goes as far as adapting ancient ballads and singing them in Gøtu-Danish, a dialect of Danish that's spoken in the Faroe Islands, from which Hamradun hail. I presume that the rest of the songs are sung in Faroese but, either way, I don't understand the lyrics but would like to, as they revolve around Faroese legends and history.

There's a deep, slow drum beat behind the vocals on Kirsten Piils kilde that surely comes from a drum kit but is phrased like a hand drum, albeit a hand drum of brutality. There's a hint of something else behind it too, conjured up either by keyboards or more traditional folk instruments. The full band only joins in after a build that lasts for a minute and a half and, even at that point, it's still all about the vocals. It's the sort of story song we might expect to hear around a campfire, in good company made even better by alcohol.

Hevndin, on the other hand, is a metal song. It's a heavier song from moment one, with an electric guitar to the fore and none of the instruments are as restrained. There are riffs and guitar solos to highlight musicianship along with the singing. There's dynamic play, moving from loud to quiet and back, presumably as the lyrics require. Sure, the song's point is still to tell a story, but the music isn't there just to back it; it's also there for itself.

If those songs mark the boundaries, the other seven songs each fit somewhere in between and there are still surprises waiting for us. Feigdarferð starts out rather proggy, the keyboards at the fore, and it goes on to feature very nice electric guitarwork. Grimmer går på gulvet has a gorgeous alternative vibe to it, not least because of the bass of Heri Reynheim underneath. What a heavy build for a song that's more rock than metal! Naglfar almost finds a glam metal vibe as it begins, though that's unsurprisingly not where it goes. At the end of the day, though, these are all story songs told to folk tunes.

I liked this album, which is Hamradun's second, after a self-titled release four years earlier. Hetjuslóð means The Path of Heroes, so highlighting the lyrical focus on history and legend. The biggest problem I have is that I'm unable to understand what Pól Arni Holm is singing and that's more important here than usual, because these are story songs. I can enjoy these as pieces of music but unfortunately not as the stories they are. At least until I can find English language lyrics somewhere...

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